The Auckland Council's ambitious plan is to make Auckland the world's most liveable city by 2040. While it generally ranks well in global liveability indexes, Auckland is held back by its poor public transportation infrastructure.
There is consensus from academics and professionals that a liveable city is one where people have easy mobility - by foot, by bicycle, by good quality public transportation and car. It should be pleasant and safe to walk and bike to shops, parks and schools. Journeys to work should be easily achievable by bus and train. Pedestrians, cyclists and buses should get priority at traffic lights.
This is not currently the case in Auckland, where people have little option but to use private cars much of the time. This is reflected in the statistics: 87 per cent of people go to work by car; 50 per cent of morning peak hour car trips are less than 5km; 64 per cent of school trips are less than 2km but are still made by car; and average travel speeds continue to decline. Auckland now experiences traffic jams similar to those of much larger cities like Sydney and Melbourne.
All this causes economic, social, environmental, and public health issues. Auckland consumes 17 per cent more transportation-related energy than Copenhagen to move the same number of people. Its air quality is below the national standard and causes around 255 people to die prematurely each year. Auckland's carbon dioxide emissions are set to increase by 20 per cent in the next ten years and transportation in the city consumes over 56 per cent of all its energy use.
The case for a more integrated public transport system is clear - and emerging shifts in lifestyle and demographics might just give the city the impetus it needs to change.
Auckland's population is growing much faster than other cities in New Zealand. This future, young and diverse population will be more likely than previous generations to use public transport and non-motorised transport if it is provided. On the hand, baby boomers - who love cars - are an ageing but powerful group with fears of social isolation. As they give up their drivers' licences, they will need physically, socially and economically suitable transport, including shared cars, public transport access, pleasant walking and safe cycling paths.
Higher density living
The typical Auckland lifestyle is changing. In the future, more Aucklanders will live in apartments and townhouses closer to the CBD, rather than in suburban homes on quarter-acre sections. These people will make larger numbers of short trips to go to work, social engagements and leisure activities; they will need timely travel information and a quality travelling experience. Technology, including electronic ticketing and wi-fi in buses, trains and public spaces, could make a positive difference to improving travel safety, security and connectivity.
The increasing cost of cars
Car ownership will become more expensive due to high petrol prices, congestion charges and parking charge increases, and Auckland traffic congestion means trips will continue to get slower. This will push people out of cars, especially if good quality trains and buses on dedicated lanes provide a viable alternative.
These emerging factors provide an opportunity to create a transport system for Auckland that is people-centred, equitable and sustainable. The city's politicians have adopted the vision of a liveable city, and now need to set bold targets for achieving walking, cycling and public transport patronage. Innovative funding options are also needed, along with plans for development alongside bus corridors and train stations.
Meaningful community involvement will lead to more well-balanced and workable solutions. The everyday experiences of Auckland communities provide 'windows of opportunity' to simplify bus routes and integrate a wider public transport network at relatively little cost, as has happened in Vancouver and Perth.
But most importantly, a change in mindset is needed. Unlimited spending on motorways is simply not an option in a resource-scarce world battling climate change. Aucklanders need to end their love affair with the car and politicians need to look beyond building new roads if the city is to create the easy mobility of a truly liveable 21st century city.
Dr Imran Muhammad is a senior lecturer in Massey University's School of People Environment and Planning.